Discerning the rights of man, we cannot fail to foresee the doom of all oppression. Slavery is not the legitimate state of man. God made man free.
–Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 227
There are times when we’re moved to pray about something that seems intensely personal, only to discover later that the need to pray when we did had a much larger significance. I’ve learned something about the wideness of God’s mercy from those times.
I was in Moscow during the height of the Cold War, in the dead of winter. As an artist and teacher, I wanted to absorb Russian culture and art, and get a deeper feel for Russia’s people. At around 1:00 a.m. one night, I woke up in my hotel room in a cold sweat, terrified. I had no idea why, and I couldn’t shake it. Wanting desperately to break out of the fear, I pulled out Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy for inspiration and started reading, but it was tough going, like walking through tar. It felt as though the ideas, and God Himself, were on another planet.
An hour went by, and my stomach still felt like lead. I realized that I was in a country where, “officially,” God was dead—but I had traveled a lot abroad, and alone, in different political climates, and never felt anything close to this.
I pulled out a copy of The Christian Science Journal I’d tucked in my bag before leaving the United States and opened it to an article. I don’t remember the title, but one line stopped me cold: God has already given us the victory. I went back over it a dozen times, at least, and let it roll around in my thought. Slowly it took hold and started sinking in: As God’s child, I was already victorious.
A measure of peace began settling over my thought, and I started feeling anchored to something solid, to the spiritual truth of God and of man’s inseparability from Him … my inseparability from Him. Some warm, comforting waters started filling cold, dark chambers.
God has already given us the victory. I began feeling God right there, giving me calm perspective, dominion, wholeness, success. He had never left. How could He? God is All. Where could He go outside of Himself? He is infinity. Better yet, how could I ever leave Him, feel outside of Him, His love, His care? Man is—each of us is—what God is knowing about Himself.
Pretty soon it wouldn’t have mattered if I were in Moscow or Manhattan. I felt deeply at home in the reality, the consciousness, of Love.
But that mental darkness and sudden terror—where had they come from? And why? I quickly realized that actually they hadn’t, because there is not, and never has been, a source of real thought or feeling apart from God. That realization was the real healing.
It wasn’t until a week later that I learned how great the need had been during those dark hours for a clear understanding of God’s presence. The reasons went far beyond my own personal needs and peace of mind. I learned that in those very moments there were
others in that city whose situations were far starker, and whose fear far greater, than mine, and they weren’t too far away.
But back to that night for a moment. After my breakthrough to the Truth, I just lay there in bed, letting these God-given thoughts of our continuous victory settle deeply into my consciousness. I looked out at the Moscow night sky. Heavy winter clouds lumbered over, but now—about 3:00 a.m.—I was feeling light. “God has already given us the victory”—what a releasing, joyous thought. There are no battles, no conflicts in His kingdom, the only kingdom. No wars, cold or hot.
Science and Health puts it this way: “The divine understanding reigns, is all, and there is no other consciousness” (p. 536). Where has a more triumphant line ever been written? Even a glimpse of its truth has power to heal the most aggressive evil. It wipes the board clean of anything but the divine, and it settled over my thought that night like a warm blanket. But, as I said, that wasn’t the end of it.
The next night, around 1:00 a.m., I was in my hotel bed, and the same terror hit me. But I knew what to do this time—claim the victory. Instantly, then and there, I claimed as mine the magnificent unfoldment of good that God had already made an eternal, uninvadable part of my life . . . of everyone’s life.
The terror melted much faster this time. The sense of myself as an isolated mortal in a strange, terrorized land—which the Soviet Union certainly was at the time—dissolved. Dominion settled in. I sat up on the edge of the bed, relieved . . . but not satisfied. I had a gnawing feeling there was something else I had to do. But what? I asked God what it was I still needed to know, and it came in a shot: “Love the people of this city.”
I’d come to the Soviet Union for legitimate, but admittedly self-interested, professional reasons. Essentially, I wanted to get—not things, but I was interested in absorbing Russian culture and art, and the texture and feel of a complex and (at the time) dark and mysterious society full of persecution and victims. I had already experienced a heavy mental atmosphere in Moscow in the few days I’d been there.
As an artist and teacher, it was easy to justify my professional objectives because of my work. In particular, I was going to see as much Russian theater as I could, with a special focus on dissident, underground playwrights. But God was telling me, as I sat there on the bed, that those reasons alone didn’t cut it.
So I kept praying, and it came to me quickly and strongly that there were basically two reasons to be anywhere: to love and to heal. To see only God’s perfect children, at peace, complete, loved and loving—“one Father with His universal family, held in the gospel of Love” (Science and Health, p. 577).
“Love the people of this city.” It was a command, no mistaking it. So I sat there for an hour or more, reaching out, wrapping my arms prayerfully around the people of Moscow. And better yet, seeing that God’s arms were already around them tenderly, firmly, forever. I trusted that this prayer had purpose and was doing what it needed to do. Then I went to sleep.
I woke up in the morning at peace and full of energy, and from that point on had a fascinating time in Moscow with a great guide (KGB, of course). I absorbed a lot of art and was even, to my surprise, “permitted” to see the underground theater I’d wanted to see. And I never felt the terror again. But that wasn’t the end of the story.
I was in my hotel bed, and the same terror hit me. But I knew what to do this time–claim the victory.
Fast-forward a week later. I’m in Vienna, where I pick up an International Herald Tribune. One story stops me in my tracks. The place: Moscow. I reread the piece and double-check the dates and timelines of the story. On the very nights I was in my hotel room, feeling that inexplicable terror, in a small apartment not far away, one of Russia’s best-known dissident (and Christian) writers and his family were living through a terror mine couldn’t touch. This writer had already spent years in the infamous Soviet prison camps called Gulags. He and his family had just gotten an underground warning that the KGB was planning to arrest him again, and there was nowhere to hide, nowhere to flee. They were waiting for the knock on the door. The writer knew what it would mean: imprisonment again, possibly torture, probably the Gulags. If they kept him alive, they’d no doubt send him back to the Siberian wilderness, where he had already spent decades in punishing hard labor. He’d never see his wife and sons again.
A lot of the world had read this man’s books, much to Soviet leaders’ dismay. Readers had been shocked by the punishment he’d survived at the Kremlin’s hands, and moved and inspired by his belief in every human being’s right to freedom. His moral strength was towering. Now he waited for the nightmare to begin again.
I reread the Tribune story. The timeline was clear. The second night I’d woken in terror was the night the KGB finally showed up at the writer’s door. That was after my prayer had made it clear to me the night before that I was to claim the victory God had already given His children, and to love the people of Moscow. There was no way I could have known specifically whom that might include, but God knew, and I couldn’t ignore the command to pray.
According to the article, it was on the second night, in the early morning hours, that the KGB was dragging the writer out of his apartment. As far as he and his family knew, they’d never see him again. According to the Tribune’s account, the police blindfolded him, tossed him in a car, drove for an hour, yanked him out, and threw him into something else. When the engines cranked up, the writer knew he was on a plane.
When the plane landed a few hours later, he was in Frankfurt, Germany. The KGB released him—simply set him free.
A month or two later, the Soviet government flew the writer’s wife and sons out to join him, and the family wound up living a quiet, bucolic life in the American countryside for years. Later, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the writer felt morally obligated to go back and do what he could to help rebuild his country.
Of course, I was immensely grateful to God for this remarkable deliverance. After all, the man was an enemy of the state, and a loud one. The Soviets rarely let such men live, let alone give them a “get out of jail free” card. The experience taught me some valuable spiritual lessons. One of them is that it’s often in the darkest hours, the most frightening or depressing, that a new, spiritual idea is being born. And that birth so often includes an innovative solution to what looks like an impossible situation. In this case, the Kremlin’s bright idea was simply to release the “enemy”—rather than lock him up or kill him. I know it wasn’t my individual prayer alone that brought about this writer’s and his family’s freedom—yet I can’t help believing that these powerful, God-given ideas contributed to lighting up the city’s mental climate, which included the KGB’s mind-set and its usual modes of operation.
What Christian Science teaches us is that, in spite of the evidence, exactly the reverse of what the material senses are reporting is true—namely, God’s infinite love and freedom are really here. Victory is around us, under us, over us, on all sides, in this moment. Our Father, God, never stops speaking to us; his thoughts are “more in number than the sand” (Psalms 139:18).
As we persist in waking up to the spiritual facts Christian Science unfolds, we find that in the darkest moment a new spiritual idea is in fact being revealed, coming to light, and its name is Immanuel, “ ‘God with us,’ ” the Christ (Science and Health, p. xi). It comes with no limits and infinite possibilities. And as Mrs. Eddy underscores, it “outweighs the material world” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 167).
Alan Lindgren lives in Ukiah, California.
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